Every time we eat or drink—whether it’s a juicy pear, cold glass of organic milk or fresh-from-the-oven gluten free chocolate chip cookie—our digestive enzymes get busy breaking down the food or beverage into smaller pieces that our bodies can more readily absorb. Digestive enzymes can be found throughout the digestive process such as the mouth, stomach and small intestine, explains the health page of U.S. News.
Types of Digestive Enzymes
What we eat or drink will impact which digestive enzymes get busy working in our bodies. For example, protease and peptidase help to break down foods that are high in protein like beans while lipases work on fats like cheese. And, as their name implies, carbohydrases help to break down sugars and starches found in bagels and breads into simple sugar molecules.
The entire digestive process starts in our mouths when we are chewing our food, notes Good Belly. To help this process along, we should be sure to chew our foods thoroughly and make sure we are eating a balanced diet filled with plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains and water.
Digestive Enzymes Impact Our Eye Health
While digestive enzymes are most well-known for supporting our digestive process and keeping our intestinal systems healthy, their impact on our bodies goes well beyond the GI tract. Actually, enzymes are used by every cell in our bodies to assist with their metabolic function.
For example, our eyes require a huge amount of nutrients including digestive enzymes to function properly and stay healthy. Being low on digestive enzymes may cause an increased risk of developing certain eye diseases including glaucoma, macular degeneration and macular edema. A lack of nutrients also has been linked to the onset of cataracts, which could result in a reduction of vision.
Get More Digestive Enzymes
While our bodies do make their own digestive enzymes, this process begins to taper off as early as the age of 20. By the time we are 40, our level of digestive enzymes is significantly less than when we were teens. Fortunately, we can also get a nice amount of digestive enzymes from the foods that we eat.
Foods that contain large amounts of enzymes include fresh papaya, pineapple, sprouts and raw nuts and seeds, notes Livestrong. The key words here are fresh and raw. Heat is the natural enemy of digestive enzymes, and in order to get needed enzymes from our food they should be in their raw and natural state not cooked and processed.
To help make sure that we get enough of these vital enzymes, Dr. Oz suggests also taking a supplement—this will provide you with a nutritional insurance policy when your diet is less than ideal. Digestive enzyme supplements are typically produced from plants, healthy bacteria and fungi, and are usually taken right before a meal to help your own digestive enzymes work as efficiently as possible. The supplements can either contain a combination of digestive enzymes, or there are more specific formulas to tackle a particular type of food such as a lipase supplement to target fatty foods.
Before starting any supplements, it is alwasy recommanded to check in with a nutritionist because many over-the-counter products simply act as a placebo and are not necessary.
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